Fretting initiated crevice corrosion of 316LVM stainless steel in physiological PBS


In the field of medicine, an implant is deemed to have failed if it fails to meet the claims of its manufacturer or the health care provider involved in its installation. Basically, implant failure can have any number of causes that may be mechanical, physical, chemical or biological. At present, mechanically assisted crevice corrosion (MACC) has been associated with implant failure in vivo and is a serious concern in numerous metallic implant systems. For instance, stainless steel medical devices may be subjected to fretting and crevice corrosion in the human body as are titanium and CoCrMo alloys due to the presence of a passive oxide film on their surface.  At present, AISI 316L stainless steel has been widely used as a metallic biomaterial for orthopaedic, spinal, dental and cardiovascular implants. Consequently, crevice corrosion has been a serious concern for stainless steel implants.

One mechanism of MACC that has not been clearly identified and studied is fretting-initiated crevice corrosion (FICC) of stainless steel where an initial fretting event can initiate a rapid propagating crevice corrosion process even when fretting has ceased. In fact, a review of published work reveals that no systematic study has been conducted to investigate the mechanism of fretting initiated-crevice corrosion. On this account, researchers from the Clemson – MUSC Bioengineering Program, Department of Bioengineering, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina: Dr. Yangping Liu (postdoctoral fellow), Dongkai Zhu, David Pierre and led by Professor Jeremy Gilbert proposed to investigate FICC behavior of stainless steel in physiologically representative saline solution in an in vitro pin-on-disk fretting corrosion model. Their work is currently published in the research journal, Acta Biomaterialia.

To begin with, the voltage-dependent fretting corrosion behavior of stainless steel pins in contact with stainless steel disks immersed in a physiologically representative phosphate buffered saline was studied. Fretting corrosion experiments were conducted with the goal being to understand both the mechanical and electrochemical conditions needed for FICC using a customized pin-on-disk fretting corrosion system. The team used a customized 2-D pin-on-disk fretting corrosion system, interfaced with a digital optical microscope to directly observe, in real time, the surface contact geometry and corrosion product generation during fretting and crevice corrosion.

The authors observed that crevice corrosion could be induced by fretting at potentials as low as −100 mV. To be specific, the researchers established that below −100 mV, there was no FICC, but rather fretting corrosion stopped immediately after fretting ceased and returned to a stable baseline current. On the contrary, metastable FICC was shown at potentials between −100 mV and 0 mV, when the crevice corrosion current gradually decreased over several seconds or longer after fretting ceased. Self-sustained, unstable crevice corrosion started at 50 mV, where prior to fretting the currents were low, and after just a few cycles of fretting the crevice current rose rapidly and continued to increase after fretting stopped.

In summary, the study demonstrated the process of fretting-initiated crevice corrosion in 316L stainless steel in simulated physiological solution of phosphate buffered saline. Overall, the results demonstrated that fretting initiated crevice corrosion may affect the performance of stainless steel in vivo. In a statement to Advances in Engineering, Professor Jeremy Gilbert explained that their findings clearly established the fundamental differences between the FICC mechanism and conventional crevice corrosion theory, showing that fretting can play a significant role in the initiation of crevice corrosion of stainless steel.

About the author

Dr. Gilbert is the Hansjörg Wyss Smart State Endowed Chair for Regenerative Medicine and Professor of Bioengineering at Clemson University and Director of the Clemson – Medical University of South Carolina Combined Program in Bioengineering. He recently moved from Syracuse University where for 18 years he was Professor of Biomaterials in the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University.

He is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research – Part B: Applied Biomaterials, and past President of the Society for Biomaterials. Dr. Gilbert was elected as a Fellow of the International Union of Societies of Biomaterials Science and Engineering in 2012, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineers in 2004 and he was the Founder of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute at Syracuse University. He is also on the Medical Devices Committee of the Food and Drug Administration for Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Devices.

Dr. Gilbert has published over 175 peer-reviewed manuscripts or book chapters, 284 conference transactions, and 11 patents with 6 more pending. Dr. Gilbert’s research interests involve the study of Biomaterials Science with emphasis on the electrochemical behavior of medical alloys and their interaction with the biological system, the role of reduction reactions on biocompatibility, the mechanical-electrochemical interactions at metal-oxide-solution interfaces, and the development of novel mechanical, electrochemical, and polymeric test methodologies for orthopedic, spinal, dental and cardiovascular medical devices and biomaterials. He has worked in orthopedic bone cements, molecular orientation effects on amorphous polymeric materials, surface micro- and nanomechanics of polymers, metals, and biological tissues, use of atomic force microscopy to study the physics of passive metal-oxide film surfaces, polymer degradation mechanisms, adsorption phenomena on metallic biomaterials in the presence of electrochemical stimuli, and viscoelastic behavior of biomaterials. Dr. Gilbert has been a consultant since 1993 for over a dozen medical device companies as a technical engineering expert and as an expert witness. He founded the Syracuse Bio-Materials Company, LLC, his professional consulting company, in 2007.

He received his PhD in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science, and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon in 1987. Dr. Gilbert was an Assistant and Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Materials at Northwestern University Dental School and Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Engineering School for 11 years before moving to Syracuse University in 1999. He became Chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Neuroscience at Syracuse in 2002, and subsequently was named Associate Dean for Research and Doctoral Programs in the College of Engineering from 2004 to 2008.


Yangping Liu, Dongkai Zhu, David Pierre, Jeremy L. Gilbert. Fretting initiated crevice corrosion of 316LVM stainless steel in physiological phosphate buffered saline: Potential and cycles to initiation. Acta Biomaterialia, volume 97 (2019) page 565–577.

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